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Term limit

From Academic Kids

A term limit is a provision of a constitution, statute, or bylaw which limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. An example would be the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution which says that no person can be elected President more than twice. Term limits are a particularly important issue in the United States.

In the United States the concept of term limits is not a new one: the constitution of the state of Delaware, adopted in 1787, limits the governor to two four year terms. This provision remains in force. Currently, 36 states have adopted term limits of various types for their governors. One peculiar variation prohibited a governor from succeeding himself, which led to the election of Lurleen Wallace, wife of Governor George Wallace, as the first female governor of Alabama. Virginia is the only state currently limiting governors to a single term.

President George Washington originally started the tradition of informal presidential term limits by refusing to run for a third term. The short-lived Confederate States of America adopted a six year term for its president and vice-president and barred holders of these offices from seeking re-election. This innovation was endorsed by many American politicians after the war, most notably by Rutherford B. Hayes in his inaugural address. Hayes's proposal did not come to fruition, but the government of Mexico adopted the Confederate term and limit for its federal president.

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Arguments in favor

The primary argument in favor of term limits is that democratic governance requires responsive and accountable elected officials, and that when elected officials become entrenched in office they stop being responsive and accountable. Incumbency provides elected officials an important electoral advantage over their challengers, which is attributable to name recognition by voters, superior campaign fundraising, constituent casework, and patronage and pork barreling. For example, incumbent Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are almost unbeatable. According to this argument, only term limits ensure that legislative seats such as these remain effectively subject to popular democracy. The power of incumbency is far greater in the United States than in most other countries, encouraging the discussion of term limits there.


Arguments opposed

There are several arguments that have been made against term limits. The main opposition is that they are undemocratic in preventing certain individuals from freely running for office. Another argument made against term limits is that politicians gain skills with experience and that term limits would thus eliminate those with the most experience and skill. There has also been an argument that term-limits benefit lobbyists as it is suggested that it is easier to get favours from someone without the option of being re-elected (i.e. a lame duck) than from someone who might have to answer to the voters in the next election. An elected official who knows they will never again be allowed to face the electorate has no motivation to listen to their constituents.

Discussion

A popular rebuttal term-limit supporters give to the first argument (above) is that a) it confuses the electoral advantages of incumbency with popularity and b) insuring democratic governance is more important than popularity for the political system. As to the second argument against, term-limit supporters often respond that long terms in office do not necessarily lead to better leadership on behalf of their constituents but rather simply better knowledge of how to manipulate the system for the benefit of themselves and their campaign donors. As to the third argument, they offer the recall election as a means of removing a termed-out politician who seems unresponsive to his or her constituents.


Implementation and legal issues

Congressional term limits featured prominently in the 1994 Republican Contract with America. In 1995, with the Republican Party holding 230 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, a proposed Constitutional amendment imposing term limits failed to get the required two-thirds vote of the House (290 votes), and the concept has subsequently lost popularity.

In May 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled (http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/display.html?terms=term%20limits&url=/supct/html/93-1456.ZO.html) 5-4 in US Term Limits, Inc., v. Thornton 514 US 779 (1995) that states cannot impose term limits upon their federal representatives or senators.

Several states, most notably California, have imposed term limits upon both their constitutional officers and the people's representatives in their legislature.

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